Far Niente Wine Tour and Red Hen Cantina Lunch Run, July 27, 2013
Mike Hinton  by Mike Hinton, Redwood Region Vice-President

I can well imagine the grumblings emanating from Redwood Region members on July 27th:  "We have to be up in WINDSOR?  At 8:00 A.M.?  This had better be worth it!"  Such questions are understandable from those members who have never attended an event at Far Niente Winery, but the veterans knew better.

On an overcast morning, more typically seen in June, a large crowd gathered in preparation for the drive into the Napa Valley to visit Far Niente Winery.  I counted at least 37 Porsches, which is one of the largest gatherings I've been involved in over the past 4 years.  One of our Past Presidents, Kurt Fischer, had mapped out a 50+ mile run that would take us on Sonoma County back roads, past the famed Chalk Hill Winery, and then into the pastoral setting of Knights Valley.  The early morning traffic was light, so it was easy to keep the two groups of cars together.  After winding through the hills at the southern end of Knights Valley, the groups emerged into bright sunshine as they crossed into the Napa  Valley.

A pleasant cruise down the scenic Silverado Trail, followed by a quick dash across the heart of the Napa Valley, led us to our destination:  the famed Far Niente Winery.  The first group of cars arrived, spreading out into the parking lot and along the curving drives leading to the winery.  Our gracious host, Bruce Mooers, asked if all of the group had arrived.  I had to inform him that the flood of Porsches only represented half of the group.  I guess the event was more popular than anticipated!

After the second group's arrival, everyone gathered at the end of the parking lot to listen to a short history of the winery.   Bruce told us that the winery had been originally commissioned back in 1885, and was designed by the famed architect Hamden McIntyre, who also oversaw the construction of Christian Brothers Winery (now the Culinary Institute of America), and the Gustav Niebaum Winery (now Inglenook, owned by Francis Ford Coppola).  The winery operated until the time of Prohibition (1919), then fell into disrepair.  In 1979, the late Gil Nickel (a car and motorcycle enthusiast extraordinaire) purchased the property and restored it.  The first wines were made at the property in 1982.  A truly fascinating story!

After our history lesson, we moved inside the top floor of the winery to taste the 2011 Chardonnay.  In keeping with the  spectacular restoration of the building's exterior, the third floor had been rebuilt with the utmost care.  For me, the most impressive feature was a spiral staircase constructed from oak.  The railings were a work of art.  A patio offered a magnificent view of the Napa Valley, and the mountains beyond.

From there, our group ventured down a level to the barrel storage area.  Typical of wine cellars, it was quite chilly!  Bruce gave us a brief overview of Far Niente's winemaking and grape growing processes, and was able to field all of the questions posed by the group.  An extra treat was the opportunity to taste the 2012 Chardonnay right out of the barrel!  Although I'm not much of a Chardonnay drinker myself,  I was greatly impressed by both offerings.  I'll have to get some to serve with Thanksgiving dinner. 

Our final stop of the tour was into the garage, where some of Gil's classic cars and bikes reside.  The three bikes were BMWs, and the cars were an eclectic mix, from practical (a London Cab) to the exotic (a 365 GTB4 Ferrari).  While ogling the cars and socializing, we were able to taste the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, and snack on many tasty varieties of cheese.  Ultimately, we also had the opportunity to sample Dolce, which is a delectable dessert wine.  All too soon, however, it was time to regroup, and set out for our lunch destination, the Red Hen Cantina in Napa.  Our group filled the parking lot, and took over most of the outdoor patio.  By now, the weather was magnificent and the food and company was  great as well.  A truly successful event!

On behalf of the Club, I'd like to thank Kurt Fischer for organizing the tour, and wanted to extend our deep gratitude to Bruce Mooers and his hard-working staff for taking time to host our group.  For those who were unable to attend, my condolences.  Kurt has promised to include Far Niente, or their sister winery Nickel & Nickel, on a future tour.  Trust me, you won't want to miss it!  

(All photos by the Editor unless otherwise noted)




Kurt Fischer Introducing the Tour 

Cars Lined Up and Ready to Go 

Arriving at Far Niente 

The Far Niente Winery

Bruce Mooers Welcoming Redwood

The View from the Balcony 

The Wine Caves (photo by Ben Brown)

Lunch at Napa's Red Hen Cantina